Derrick Locke burst onto the scene as an unheralded freshman out of Hugo, Okla., playing football on a track scholarship. In 2010, UK fans and coaches alike are hoping another tailback will burst onto the scene.
That guy may just be Donald Russell.
Though Russell played in five games in the 2009 season, rushing for 137 yards on 13 carries, including a 79-yard run against Eastern Kentucky for a touchdown, he is virtually an unknown to the Big Blue Nation. Locke believes that will change this season.
"(Fans can expect) big plays (from Russell), hands down," Locke said. "When he comes in he's going to make guys miss. You better get ready because he's going to make guys miss. He's far better at making guys miss than I am."
Russell, standing at 5-foot-11, 209-pounds, had a strong spring. In the annual Blue/White Spring Game, Russell rushed nine times for 118 yards and two touchdowns, including a 65-yard score. Part of Russell's success from the spring and thus far in the fall may come from his five games from last season.
"It was important because I wanted to show the coaches and everybody else I'm capable of helping in any aspect of the game," Russell said.
UK running backs coach Larry Brinson said the confidence gained from seeing game reps can make a player more comfortable on the field.
"When you go into a game confident with what your assignments are, you play faster," Brinson said. "He's been very solid and looking good and hopefully he'll stay healthy throughout the camp."
With the departures of Alfonso Smith and John Conner, the Cats enter this year's campaign with just two veterans in the backfield who have seen significant playing time in Locke and Moncell Allen, who has been moved to fullback to replace Conner. That leaves a door open for another tailback to step up and take snaps at running back alongside Locke. The good thing, said Brinson, who will be entering his fourth year with the Cats, is this group of backs has as much depth as he's seen while at Kentucky.
"When I first got here there was Rafael (Little), Tony (Dixon) and Alfonso Smith, and then after that it kind of fell off," Brinson said. "But right here we have about three-deep and the talent doesn't really fall off that much. We've got guys that can really do it. And those younger guys, it's just a matter of those guys learning the system and feeling comfortable with it."
Locke said Russell has been following him around everywhere and has been studying film with him to improve his game.
"This whole summer he's been getting with me because my main thing was I have to get these guys ready for games," Locke said. "I'm throwing everything I can at Russell, just how I would in a game, that way, if we need to run this play, if you need to flex out here, if you need to do that and get in the slot, you've got to be able to run it. Because it can't be, 'Locke's on the sideline, we can't run that play.' We're not going to have that this year."
What the Cats could have is a Locke-Russell combination that could keep opposing defenses off balance.
With Locke, the Cats have a proven tailback with speed comparable to anyone in the Southeastern Conference. In Russell, Kentucky has more of a power back who still has speed and is more than capable of making defenses miss as proven last season and in the spring.
"He has a unique running style, he really does," Brinson said. "He's more of a stop-and-go type of guy. When I look at him, I want him to really make his moves on the run but that's his running style and it's been productive for him. Whatever makes a guy productive, that's what you let him do. If he's positive in everything he's doing and making big plays, you definitely don't want to change it. I've coached a lot of different guys and I think Russell is one of the more unique guys I've ever coached."
Russell said he doesn't model his game after anyone in particular, he just goes out and tries to practice and play hard. When asked about the combination of playing alongside Locke, he smiled at the notion.
"I can be more of a power back and I can get in between the tackles," Russell said. "Just combining us together, I think it would be a good combination. I think we're going to have a lot of our opponents confused about what to do."
Locke also agreed on the potential thunder-lightning-like combination the two backs could create at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturdays.
"They don't really know how good he is yet," Locke said. "They haven't seen him. But he could come in and take some snaps and take a lot of pressure off me. And I'm really looking forward to that. I'm needing that help."
Russell said he felt he could improve on everything in his game, including picking up blocks in pass protection. Brinson also said pass protection was an area he needs to improve upon, and Locke said it was something they were watching in film study.
Brinson said Russell's talents in pass protection will come with more reps and he did a "great job" for them in that area during the spring.
In Locke's eyes, one of the things Russell needs to improve on the most is not overdoing his ability to make people miss. The end product, Locke said, could be something special.
"One thing I feel like he needs to do better is he makes so many guys miss he overdoes it sometimes," Locke said. "If he can clean that up and learn to drop his shoulder more -- I mean he drops his shoulder but he needs to make that guy miss, make that guy miss and then boom get up field. If he can get that he'll be far better than I am when he gets to his fourth year. He'll be nasty."